A high school quarterback, Eric Walker spent part of his prep career being chased around at practice by a hulking defensive end.
You may recognize his name: Myles Garrett, the former Texas A&M All-American who was the No. 1 NFL draft pick in April.
So, starting on the mound for LSU’s Baton Rouge regional championship game — all of its pressures and demands — couldn’t be too tough. After all, he used to run daily from a 6-foot-4, 270-pound beast of a man who can rival Leonard Fournette’s 40-yard dash time.
The regional? It was a piece of cake.
Walker coasted Sunday night in a 5-0 win over Rice to send the Tigers to the NCAA super regionals in front of a rain-soaked, announced crowd of 10,639 in Alex Box Stadium.
The freshman from Texas matched his career high with eight strikeouts during a seven-hit, eight-inning blanking of the Owls — a result that had pitching coach Alan Dunn grinning widely afterward.
"That's one for the ages right there," he said. "A young freshman kid with the place jacked — there’s not enough words for me to describe what that performance was."
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Walker, now 8-1 with a 3.46 ERA, has delivered championship victories in his last three starts. He was on the mound for LSU’s 11-7 win May 20 at Mississippi State, a victory that locked up a share of the SEC regular-season championship. He started — and got the win — in the SEC tournament title game over Arkansas.
And then came Sunday night, his first start in an NCAA tournament game.
He threw 98 pitches, a whopping 77 for strikes, to fool a Rice lineup with that 77-mph changeup and an 88-mph fastball. He started the game on target, tossing 26 strikes in his first 30 pitches over the first three innings.
"Eric did what he does in championship games," second baseman Cole Freeman said. "Any pitch, anywhere, he was doing it."
"The only way I can describe it is pitching for a championship really fires me up," Walker said. "I really thrive in pressure."
As has frequently been the case during this increasingly impressive late-season surge, the L…
He never went to a 3-ball count and only three times threw two balls to a batter. Two runners reached third base, both of them after squaring up doubles. He retired three straight batters after each of those extra-base hits.
Walker threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of his 35 batters faced.
"As a pitching staff ... first-pitch strikes is the top of the list," Dunn said. "If you’re getting strike 1, you’ve got a pretty good chance to be successful."
He struck out three of his first six batters and had Ks to end the sixth and seventh. He induced a flyout to end the eighth and jogged off the field to a rousing ovation from a purple-and-gold-clad crowd.
“I think we read this kid right,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said during a midgame television interview on the SEC Network. “He was a poised leader, playing quarterback in Texas. This is the way we saw him pitch in high school. The only question was whether his stuff would be good enough for the SEC, but he's shown that it is.”
He got a standing ovation when he strutted off the mound in the ninth. The first Owls in the ninth singled, ushering in another freshman, Zack Hess, to finish off Rice (33-31).
Walker brought the crowd to its feet as he jogged to the dugout, got a long embrace from ace Alex Lange and stepped into a rowdy mob of teammates.
He’s used to this stuff.
Walker started at quarterback for three years at Arlington's Martin High, a Class 6A program outside of Dallas. He led the Warriors to three straight 10-win seasons, including one of those with Garrett on the other side of the ball.
"I’m such a big believer in dual athletes," Dunn said. "There’s a lot of crossover that you get from other sports, and football is one of them. You better be locked in mentality-wise playing football. This kid started as a sophomore in a pretty good high school. Myles Garrett was his teammate, so you know what that program was about."
Photos: LSU shuts out Rice with 5-0 win behind starter Eric Walker
LSU shuts out Rice with a 5-0 win, Sunday, June 4, 2017, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. The Tigers advance to and will host the NCAA Super Regionals against either Southern Mississippi or Mississippi State.